Blackwing 530

Dropping Some Gold Rush Knowledge

I missed out on the the grade school field trip to Sutter’s Mill, so when I paid the historical landmark a visit in preparation for the launch of the Blackwing 530, I learned quite a bit. I also fell down a rabbit hole of Gold Rush research that produced some interesting facts. Here are eight of my favorite interesting/quirky tidbits about the California Gold Rush:

  1. I currently live across the street from Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, CA (approximately 45 miles from the gold discovery site). Sutter’s Fort was owned by the same John Sutter who owned Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, but was abandoned after the gold discovery in 1848.
  2. John Sutter contracted James Marshall to build his saw mill in Coloma. It was while building this mill that Marshall made his famous discovery. In the frenzy of the gold hunt, however, the mill fell into disrepair, and was never used for its intended purpose.
  3. Marshall originally tried to keep his discovery a secret. As you can imagine, word spread quickly, despite his best efforts.
  4. The California Gold Rush was the largest mass migration in US history. In all, over 300,000 people migrated to California in search of fortune.
  5. When their situation started looking dire, the infamous Donner Party sent two men to Sutter’s Fort in search of help. By the time help arrived… well, you know.
  6. The Gold Rush is synonymous with the number “49,” despite gold being discovered in 1848 (I guess “48ers” doesn’t have the same ring to it).
  7. Neither John Sutter nor James Marshall profited from the gold discovery. In fact, salesmen and entrepreneurs, not miners and prospectors, proved to have the most lucrative Gold Rush careers.
  8. Levi Strauss got his start as a dry goods seller in San Francisco during the Gold Rush. His durable trousers proved to be a big hit with miners.
Blackwing Point Guard

Creating the Blackwing Point Guard

Last week, we launched the Blackwing Point Guard, a point protector designed specifically for Blackwing pencils. This is an item we’ve been working on for nearly two full years, and one I didn’t think would ever see the light of day. It was a deceptively challenging project, but it was an enlightening one as well.

Silver Point Guard

The origin of the Point Guard dates back to early 2015, when we designed the prototype unit with the help of Jon Fontane at Metal Shop CT. If you aren’t already familiar with his work, Jon is the creative mind behind the Twist Bullet Pencil, a modern take on the bullet pencils popularized in the early to mid 20th century. Jon helped us come up with the design of the unit and its overall functionality, and he was a blast to work with.

After a few months of back and forth, we decided to mutually part ways on the project. Jon was busy building his own successful brand, and we shifted our focus to the Volumes program and a few of the other items we had in the works. I thought the Point Guard project was dead in the water, and I cherished the few prototype samples we had at our HQ like rare artifacts.

That’s how the project stayed for months until, while working on another project, I met an aluminum worker from Taiwan. He saw the Point Guard prototype I kept with my notebook, and told me he could make them for us. I was beyond stoked, so we started working on a production sample right away.

If this project taught me one thing, it’s that tolerance variances are REAL. The diameter of our pencils (from flat face to flat face) range from 7.15mm on a pencil with very little lacquer (like the Blackwing 211) to up to 7.25mm on a pencil with extensive finishing (like the Blackwing 602). 0.1mm may not sound like much, but that variability is quickly doubled when factoring in ±0.05 tolerance required by our metal partner.

 

Bad Point Guard

 

Thanks to this variability, the first round of samples we received proved to be too loose. We came up with something we called the “3 shake test” to check the security of the cap. If the cap came off after three shakes, it was no good (this was something that was going to be used on the go, after all). The first prototype passed the test when placed on a Palomino Blackwing 602, but failed miserably when used with a Palomino Blackwing. So, we adjusted interior diameter of the cap and gave it another go.

 

Good Point Guard

 

We received the second round of samples, and they passed the 3 shake test. SUCCESS! The Point Guard was ready for action.

Unlike other pencil caps, the Point Guard isn’t designed to slide over the pencil until the point meets the end of the cap. Instead, it is designed to fit snugly on the end as soon as it reaches the unsharpened portion of the pencil. This allows the Point Guard to deal with those variances we were struggling with, and also allows it to accept a wide range of sharpening lengths, from short points to expertly shaped hand-sharpenings. It also means you probably only need to push the cap about 1/4 inch up the barrel of the pencil before it’s secure.

Point Guard

 

Blackwing Volumes subscribers were gifted a Point Guard with their Blackwing 530 subscription shipment. If you’d like to subscribe and get a free Point Guard in the process, you can do that here. If you’d like to pick a Point Guard by its lonesome, you do that as well.

Blackwing Point Guard

What’s Inside the Blackwing 530 Subscription Box

In addition to a twelve pack of pencils and thirteenth archive tube pencil, Blackwing Volumes subscribers always receive a little something extra. With the Blackwing 211, it was a cedar slat with the pencil’s story etched into its face. With the Blackwing 24, it was a never-before-seen portrait of John Steinbeck. With the Blackwing 344 it was a DIY pinhole camera.

This time around, we included a digital download of folk singer-songwriter Willy Tea Taylor’s song “California.” The John Steinbeck-inspired “California” is one of the stand-out tracks off of Taylor’s sophomore album Knuckleball Prime. Its haunting lyrics chronicle the period in California’s history in which thousands of Dust Bowl refugees headed west to California in search of a better life. You can read more about the album and Willy Tea Taylor at BlackwingMusic.com.

Knuckleball Prime

We also gave subscribers the first-look at a new product we’ll be launching before the end of the year. Crafted out of lightweight aluminum, the Blackwing Point Guard is our take on the pencil point protector. It’s designed to go over the point of your Blackwing pencil, keeping it safe in your bag, pocket, or pencil roll. Subscribers receive an info card that gives an overview of the product, along with a special link to get a free Point Guard when it’s released later this month.

Blackwing Point Guard

If you want to snag a free song download and a free Blackwing Point Guard, subscriptions for the Blackwing 530 are still available.